The recent firestorm over Strong 4 Life's anti-obesity ads blew the lid off a smoldering brew of outlooks on how to discuss childhood obesity. On the one side are doctors and educators who feel it's time to "stop sugarcoating it" and startle parents and local governments into action to help obese children, and on the opposing side are some parents and others who council or care for children, who think the extra attention of shock ads will only make obese children more vulnerable to teasing and disfavor.
They do have a legitimate concern. Schoolyard bullying happens, and now social media has allowed the verbal attacks to multiply. Adults spewing a bitter lack of understanding or kindness have raised their anonymous voices online.
I've been trolling through reader comments lately on food blogs that touch on legislation or the politics of obesity. There's a lot of venomous ranting out there, including comments like "4 words - don't eat so much." Aside from being hateful, which it is, that's also a comment coming from ignorance. If it were that easy to lose weight even lazy people would probably succeed. I mean, show me someone who likes being morbidly obese and I'll show you pigs flying.
Obese people experience hunger in a different way than "fit" people, often more frequently and with more discomfort. Researchers are studying various hormones and body chemistry and finding some meaningful correlations between weight, hormones, "peptides" and diets. Dieters who cut calories to below 1,000 per day or those who cut out carbs risk struggling with fatigue, dizziness, gallstones, gout, ketosis and even migraine headaches*. In short, just trying to eat less is both difficult for obese people and not an effective way of trying to keep weight off.
No doubt, obesity is a preventable condition for most people. We live in the climate of what's been dubbed "SAD" eating, the Standard American Diet. It consist of exactly the high-calorie, saturated-fat heavy, low nutrient foods that lead to storing body fat, craving food, and gaining weight. The trouble is, once we have trained our young bodies to be overweight, they learn to try to maintain that weight.
So we need to shut down the angry, accusatory ranting about "fat people" being lazy. This is a dangerous lying stereotype which doesn't help get at the truth or solve a problem.
I feel that Strong4Life, in running these ads and billboards, has yanked the lid off an epidemic of obesity that's boiling over anyway. We have to face it, and we should make sure that as we do, we take the "victims" of obesity and turn them into "fighters" and winners. We need to change the rhetoric the way we did with breast cancer victims. There was a time when it was all hush-hush, don't shame the woman by revealing her surgery. Today we treat breast-cancer patients like the fighters they are. We need to approach obesity the same way.